what is

Writing on my balcony the other night under the moon and shadows, I felt anxious and wanted from the night something the night doesn’t usually bring. I sat there in the cricket filled evening for a while but nothing happened. I started to write about the spiritual practice of just being there with what is–and how I often find myself rocked like a boat between two sides of myself: on one side is a sincere wish for being, and on the other I am taken by the demands and worries each day brings. In the process of writing, I discovered that often in my life there seems to be no room for the other, and I often meet these demands with this most horrible of attitudes, like the world owes me something. Now, both stances are undeniable realities. This is how I am. I need to recognize and bridge this tremendous gulf that hangs in-between. This is the spiritual struggle.

With each day buried by yet another day, we all wander lost. Sure, many of us have tasted a transcendence of the ordinary way of perceiving things–that there is another life of promise and possibility, but we don’t just explode into it and become holy whiteness forever. We ascend and descend on ladders, and unfortunately when we descend, we usually forget. If we are passive, our days take us wherever they wish to like a raging river and the current is stronger than we imagine.  But there is something within us that remembers. It knows what is required. Through an active silent watchfulness we can open to this moment as it is. From that effort, a quality of seeing can appear that expands. It is inclusive, and it does not take sides, either for, or against.

Newfoundland Meditations 2

It is a soft and grey Sunday afternoon. The cars creep slowly over the bridge in Biscay Bay, Newfoundland. A sea concerto rumbles and rolls into itself as the white ramshackle houses stare blankly at one another. A warm wind blows and the tall grass comes alive for a moment. What is here? Can I be open to receive these gifts of impressions around me instead of continually going out towards them? I need to recognize another quality that is always here. I can’t do it, I need to see how I am, this moment. Repeatedly my attention moves outward, like a yo-yo. If it goes too far, the string will break and I will lose the thread. Like a thirsty traveler, I need to keep coming back to the bar.

The forces of life are like waves on a beach, continually contracting and expanding. It is a collection as well as a dispersion, just like this mysterious property of one’s attention. I need a strong sense of an inner life. It’s like a new center of gravity is required, that is not just my head a thinking in me,  one that can stay in front of these forces and not be taken–to just see. I need to make a demand on myself to see how I am, here and now, in front of this person or this task. Without an intention (in-tension) I see that I am continually taken by outer or inner manifestations. Something needs to be called. I need to connect to a wish to listen to life–to be wholly engaged and not simply just passive. The dance of life never ceases with its music, voices and movement. If I am asleep to this mystery, I am lost in dreams and life seems as flat as pavement, where in reality everything is new all the time. What is needed? To simply let things be as they are. The sun doesn’t care who it shines on. Energy is impartial. You are moving with a certain atmosphere, blending within and without. Simply breathe and watch without interfering. Just Be.  In this way, I think it may be possible to absorb the whole world.

(Photograph: Rex Dupain, “Big Breaker,” 1954)

Newfoundland Meditations

From on top of a hill where a small white house sits, I can see the beach below. The ocean, like life itself, creeps up the coast and falls back, merging with the deep blue. From an old wooden table covered with oil paint and propped against a window, I watch the lazy summer sun and the tall grass dancing. There are voices from the house next door, but the sound of the wind makes them inaudible. A few people, smudges of red and white, walk across the beach. On the road, cars pass each solemnly and slowly. The waves come and go, like watching my breath as I sit here on this chair and fill this notebook with words. There is nothing to do. It’s strange how difficult this is to accept sometimes. Usually my inclination is to fill these silences, these empty spaces with just about anything–desires to be something or somewhere else, or just chatter. Is this all I am? This usual existence that I call my life, where I am chained to a continual like and dislike of everything is so limiting. It has length, but no width. Is it possible to forsake this view of my life for something that is much larger and far more mysterious—to die to the known and enter the unknown?

Everything is pregnant with summer, the trees, grass, sky, and ocean—the breath, the head, the heart, and the line. Wooden posts stand at attention across the hills and valleys overlooking the white capped waves, the ribbons of blue, and the stones and sand. A dog barks, a lawn mower engine starts up, and then all is quiet again. There is a natural rhythm to life here that is deeply ingrained in the locals. It has soft ebb and a flow that I can only imagine comes from living near the sea. There is a humbling feeling of being a small part of something that is so vast that it doesn’t allow you to become overly concerned with yourself and your preoccupations. This wonderful feeling of wide is a gift that can swallow up any shred of self importance.

John, the middle-aged man who lives next door is sitting calmly and collectedly on the front steps of his house, facing the ocean. Deciding to take a break from raking the grass, he pets his dog Chip. He looks like he belongs there completely, like a silent pharaoh. Looking at him betrays my own restlessness. It’s a marvel how someone or something so unobtrusive, can teach you something about yourself.

I feel something is working on me here. There is a softening of tensions that appears if I am open enough to see it and taste it. It’s like the landscape is a special mirror, and I can see myself reflected in it. What is behind my restlessness, behind my tensions? Ah! There is something else here, whole and mysterious. A vertical dimension, one might say.

We are all moving through forces that we don’t understand like little boats being rocked to and fro on that big blue expanse of ocean that I see through my window that is buzzing of flies. And like those flies, I find myself caught so often inside a prison of a small house, when all I have to do is find the door to a much larger world that is waiting patiently outside. It all comes down to what I truly and sincerely respect. What do I serve? Either my limited energy is continually taken by my likes and dislikes, flowing into my thoughts and emotions, or it can serve the one who is able to see and stand in front of the mystery. This precious energy could serve a different master that my body truly wishes to obey.

(Photograph by Keegan Gibbs, “The Alchemist”)

Moments

Something is always here that needs to be continually welcomed and respected. Each moment is an opportunity for a return to that which has no beginning and no end. Maybe for a moment or two, I am no longer simply a bag of skin and bones breathing in and out. Yes, something is here that is much larger than these thoughts and these emotions that are passing through me. I don’t need to store my belief in them. In this moment I can be free to accept what is, no longer thinking that “I can do.” It is done through me. For the moment, a cessation from wishing for people and things to be different. There’s a different attention, a different breath even, where a subtler body finds nourishment—it is filled with this attention. It is as though the body is actually a vessel for a small sun that can emanate with the sacred words, “I Am.” Everything unnecessary can fall away in order to simply Be.

(Photography by Kentarana Kamura, “Evening Wave,” 1927 from Golden Comic Book Stories.”)